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Life, Death and ITSM in Finland

Mark takes the opportunity to chat with Aale Roos about ITSM and related topics

On a trip to Helsinki in April 2016 to speak at the ICT Expo, a two-day trade show attended by 5000 visitors, I had the opportunity to catch up with ITSM legend Aale Roos. I’ve known Aale for more years than we both care to acknowledge, and it had been quite a while since we last spoke about life, death and ITSM. We had a sunny break in the dismal weather and Aale was kind enough to pick me up at the exhibition at lunchtime and take me on a little tour of Suomenlinna Island. During the afternoon we spoke about various topics, some of which I thought worth sharing.


The Open Group IT4ITTM Reference Architecture standard, as it is officially called, is attracting a fair bit of interest and Aale had taken a look at it. While he admitted not having looked at all of it in detail, he had studied the Detect to Correct value stream and had shared his thoughts – some critical, some positive – on his blog and at events in Finland. As a member of the IT4IT Forum – in fact I had just flown in from London the previous day from an Open Group event where I facilitated a session about IT operating models – I was able to give a bit more background on the standard.

The IT4IT standard comprises two main parts: a value chain and a reference architecture. The value chain describes from end to end (and this makes IT4IT attractive), the activities that most medium to large enterprises’ IT functions execute or outsource. The reference architecture comprises a functional model, an information model, and an integration model that together form prescriptive guidance as to how an IT function works from an information-based perspective. These models can be regarded as specifications for information systems that are intended to support the IT function: “IT for IT”. Part of the long term vision for the IT4IT standard is wide adoption by IT tool vendors, improving the interoperability of IT tooling as a result for instance of a common data definition of for incidents, problems, changes etc.

Optimizing IT resources

As “IT for IT” implies, it refers to the internals of the IT function of an enterprise. It is about improving the business of IT by using IT as effectively as businesses use IT. The IT4IT standard enables optimized IT resources (in particular IT management information systems) and more efficient and controlled IT operations. These IT-related results can be translated into benefits for the enterprise in terms of reduced costs, a better risk profile and improved revenue. I explain how this can be achieved in the executive summary of the IT4IT Management Guide. If you want to learn more, plenty of presentations about IT4IT are readily available online, and this short interview with Charles Betz, one of the thinkers behind IT4IT, is worth consuming.

One of Aale’s concerns was that the IT4IT standard does not describe the roles of the IT-customer in any detail. While links to the customers of the IT function are present, Aale would have liked to see more explicit involvement of the environment. This was one of the topics that I had first looked at when I got involved in the IT4IT forum, and I made a high-level mapping between the IT4IT standard and business management and operations. Although the IT4IT standard is useful in its current state, it is still being developed, so we can expect additional guidance (white papers etc.) to emerge, some of which will undoubtedly be based on how it has been used by the first wave of adoptee organizations.

Service desk 2.0

The other major topic that we discussed was the service desk and Aale’s vision – Service Desk 2.0 – of how the current, and sometimes sorry, state of affairs could be improved. The point that appealed to me the most was Aale’s suggestion that the service desk should shift its focus from solving technical faults in the IT systems, to solving the actual work-related problems that users experience. This sounds like common sense but all too many of us know from our personal dealings with service desks what a frustrating experience it can be. Part of solving the users’ problems entails engaging with the user as a human being and recognizing his or her emotional state. I mentioned my experience with American Express, where they seem to have achieved a consistent level of relational and transactional capabilities. This comes at a price of course, but Aale also identifies several opportunities to save costs, for instance by only collecting data that is actually useful. Aale’s track record in the service desk domain is impressive, and anybody involved in that area would do well to look at his recommendations.

Business and IT – equal dancing partners?

My talk at the ICT Expo event attracted a good audience, both in quantity and in quality. The Finns are well-known for their ability to communicate by saying nothing, or little, separated by thoughtful pauses. Despite these admirable characteristics, we had an interactive session about how business people and IT people have to be equal dancing partners in order to co-create value from their enterprise’s investments in IT.

I had the honour of being on the same bill as Edward Snowden (Freedom of the Press Foundation). Via a video-link between Finland and Russia, Snowden was interviewed by two journalists. More than once, he shared his concerns about data being seized without a court order via ‘dragnets’, and recommended zero-knowledge encryption as good security practice.

IT Standard for Business

After my talk, I had a meeting with Katri Kolesnik, managing editor of the IT Standard for Business, which is supported by a non-profit foundation. This is pretty big in Finland and is starting to attract interest from other countries as far as Japan and Australia. As an ambassador at the non-profit ASL BiSL Foundation, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to collaborate with other communities by sharing knowledge and exploring how this can benefit our respective communities. We had an encouraging exchange, so watch this space…

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